Bulking Science

You cant find an optimal bulking program for muscle gain by googling, you need to use science. Its easy to do, even if you hate science – heres how!   By scienc”, I mean real practical science, not googling for cherry picked research kind of “science”.  If you google for bulking programs, most are for steroid users or fake-natties and they will do is make you very fat if you are a natural lifter. I am not interested in theory but optimal RESULTS for ME!  You can use the scientific method to optimize your bulking for muscle gain! Its not hard, anyone can do it even if you hated science in school, here’s how:

Using the scientific method to maximize muscle gain when bulking

  1. make a hypothesis
  2. design and experiment to test it
  3. evaluate results and revise

Later I will talk about my bulking results

What 99% of bodybuilders do is step 1 but they never do steps 2 and 3! There is a name for science experiments like this, they are called “cool stories”  and are found like nasty weeds in places like reddit and bodybuildingDOTcom:


The problem is that they dont take the necessary data to evaluate their hypothesis!  If YOU want to design an optimal bulk to gain muscle mass, it all starts with a well formulated hypothesis – lets look at my example.

How to design a scientific bulking experiment to maximize muscle gain

So here is the experiment I designed, you can do something similar.

  • Hypothesis: A 5% caloric surplus maintained for 16 weeks will allow me to gain more muscle mass than eating at maintenance. Note: In my case, my baseline is simple as I have not gained any muscle at all in 15 years.  Any muscle I gain will be a result of the bulk and not gains I would have gotten at all without any bulking at all.  In my opinion, bulking  has little to no benefit except in advanced lifters like myself who have plateaued in muscle gain.
  • Experiment: Bulk for 12 weeks – Workout plan X, nutritional plan Y @+5%, sleep 8hrs a night. Weigh accurately daily. Measure bodyfat daily. Then cut until bodyfat is exactly the same as the starting bodyfat while continuing to use workout plan X, nutritional plan Y but at -15%, and sleep 8 hrs a day.   Note this clever experiment design eliminates the issue of bodyfat measurement errors becuase they subtract out.  If your skinfold measurements are the same at the beginning and end of the experiment and your waist measurement is the same then you have the same bodyfat and you accurate weight measurement will give the pounds of actual muscle mass gained.
  • Evaluate: download this spreadsheet bodybuilding-bulking-experiment-analysis.xls.  Compare your accurate weight measurement at the beginning of the bulk to that at the end of the cut where your bodyfat is identical to that at the start of the experiment.  This is your muscle gain.

Now design another experiment to maximize muscle gain

Lets say your first experiment with a 5% surplus for 12 weeks gave you 4lbs muscle. Fine, come up with a new hypothesis. Lets say you have heard that 5% is not enough of a caloric surplus, fine, try that and compare the results! The next experiement will be a 10% bulk for 6 weeks – try that and compare your muscle mass gain to what you got with the 5% bulk.  THIS is real science based bodybuilding – not googling for research papers!

Should I bulk?

My stance on bulking has always been that for beginners and intermediate bodybuilders, the microscopic additional gains are not worth the effort – cutting is a LOT of work.  Bulking is only worth it if you are a competing powerlifter, a steroid using bodybuilder, or a natural lifter who has hit a muscle gain plateau and is looking to eek out a few pounds more muscular gains. Beginners and intermediates can easily gain muscle and lose fat at the same time!!!!

My bulking results

So back in early Febuary 29 I was 214lbs at 8% bodyfat and planned a cut to get down to 6% but then corona-shit happened and I decided to make some lemonade from the lemons and do a slow +5% bulk.  I have never been interested in bulking because honestly, the cutting part is simply too hard.  Losing bodyfat is hard work and its not fun.  After 35 years of lifting I decided to do my first bulk/cut and see if it was worth my while.  I have to say, ramping up the workout intensity and volume while being able to eat at a caloric surplus is FUN, its motivating.  I *feel* bigger.  Today is the 24th of May, the end of my bulk so lets look at my data:

weight bodyfat LBM
bulk start: 29 Feb 214lbs 8% 197lbs
bulk end: 24 May 232lbs 12% 204lbs
cut start: 2. June 226lbs 11% 201lbs
cut end: ? ? 8% ?

So, I gained 7lbs of muscle in 10 weeks of bulking!  That’s awesome, right?  Not so fast!  When one transitions from a 5% surplus to a 25% caloric deficit and low carb, there is a LOT of water weight that gets shed the first week.  To be accurate in my comparision I need to match the caloric deficit and nutritional style used when the 29. Feb measurements were made.  Also, after bulking, it will take 7-10 days for my body to establish a new equilibrium so that I have a fair end of bulk result.

… So its now June 2 and its been a week since my bulk ended and my bodyweight has stabilized: 226lbs at 11% bodyfat and 201lbs LBM.  So my 7lbs of gain was really just 4lbs when we get rid of all the water.

So, gaining 4lbs of muscle in 10 weeks is awesome – right?  I should package my bulking plan and sell it for $97! Not so fast!  The only valid experiment that will produce accurate muscle gain results during a bulk cycle requires that you complete the cycle, that is, get back to the exact same bodyfat as when you started.  By “the same bodyfat” I mean the same measurement on the same piece of measurement equipment measured in the same way by the same person.  I personally use a skinfold and pay particular attention to the skinfold reading at the belly.  When I get down to a weight where the reading is 12mm then I am at the same bodyfat.  Any errors in bodyfat accuracy calculations subtract out at this point and I can simply subtract the beginning weight from the ending weight and get a VERY accurate LBM gain measurement. If you dont like skinfold calipiers there is an easier way, just measure your waist!  When your cut gets you down to the same waist size then you are at the same bodyfat.

When my cut gets me down to the same bodyfat, THEN I can calculate my LBM and see what my actual muscle gain during the bulk was.  I am expecting 1-2lbs which actually is in the range of measurement error.


Bulking Science

Note: This photo is morphed image from fake “Mass Gainer 5000” commercial